The resources sector is cognisant that water is a valuable commodity for the community and must be used wisely
The resources sector relies on water to undertake its operations but also understands that it is a valuable commodity for the community and must be used wisely. Water for the resource sector comes from a range of sources, including surface water pumped from rivers, groundwater bores, rainfall and runoff, groundwater inflows from extraction of the geological profile interacting with aquifers, potable water and recycled water from all these sources collected on site.
Prior to taking any water from the natural system, all resource developments must undergo comprehensive environmental impact assessment processes at a State and Commonwealth level. In addition, the Commonwealth Government introduced ‘a water resource, in relation to coal seam gas development and large coal mining development’ as a new Matter of National Environmental Significance under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 in 2013 and established the Independent Expert Scientific Committee on Coal Seam Gas and Large Coal Mining Development to assess and provide specific advice on the matter. If the development is approved following this detailed scrutiny, all required licences and/or allocations must then be obtained before works can commence.
Water is extracted, managed and monitored closely during operations to ensure efficient and safe production, a reliable supply is maintained on site and to minimise environmental impacts on the surrounding environment.
Access to Water
The resources sector has traditionally accessed water differently depending on the commodity with a different framework for mining as compared with petroleum and gas. Amendments currently before Parliament would introduce a single consistent system of water rights for all new resource projects, but with existing water rights to be grandfathered through a transitional period.
The key change relates to how groundwater can be accessed. New groundwater rights will be broken into two categories — associated water and non-associated water.
- Associated water is water unavoidably taken (or interfered with) during production. The obvious CSG example is de-pressuring a coal seam and the obvious mining equivalent is water that infiltrates into an underground mine or an open pit.
- Non-associated water is when the interference or take of the groundwater is not unavoidably linked to production. That is taking water from a bore for dust suppression or fracking is non-associated water.
How will the new groundwater framework apply to the resources sector?
QRC has been working closely with member companies and government to try and ensure that the transition to these new laws works as seamlessly as possible.
During high rainfall conditions, significant amounts of water can accumulate on site and can pose a safety risk to operations. In these instances, operations may need to release water collected on site into natural watercourses. To maintain water quality parameters downstream of resource operations, there are regulated systems in place and strict conditions on resource companies to minimise the impact of water discharges into the environment.
Resource companies are only able to discharge under certain watercourse flow conditions (e.g. high flow or flood). Companies must also undertake monitoring during the discharge and report to government on the volume of water released and its quality (i.e. the measure of nutrients, organic matter and suspended solids).
Bioregional assessments investigate the potential cumulative, water-related impacts at a regional scale due to coal seam gas and open-cut and underground coal mining developments as they exist in the present and into the foreseeable future. The assessments span across selected localities across Queensland, New South Wales, Victoria and South Australia. These states are the four signatory states under the National Partnership Agreement on Coal Seam Gas and Large Coal Mining Development. The findings of the assessments are intended to guide water management, and regulatory and planning decisions.
GBR Partnerships for Improved Water Quality and Ecosystems
There are a number of regional partnerships across Queensland, particularly in the Great Barrier Reef catchment, which are monitoring our river ecosystems that feed to the reef. The partnerships are made up of representatives from government, agriculture, resources, other commercial industry, tourism, research and community interests.
While not directly involved in river management, the partnerships develop report cards, which are designed to inform consideration of whether current management strategies are proving successful in maintaining the health of the regions’ river ecosystems and ultimately the Great Barrier Reef. Reports cards are released annually and are publicly available.
For more information on the Great Barrier Reef, the partnerships and QRC’s involvement on this policy matter click here.